THE BLOG

Inequality Blights Education for Children With Disabilities - Let's Change This Now

02/12/2015 17:41 GMT | Updated 02/12/2016 10:12 GMT
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I look forward to 3 December every year because it is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As a philanthropist and children's' campaigner - it's an incredible opportunity to discuss what children with disabilities need to prosper. And believe me, it's imperative we have that conversation.

One issue that desperately needs to be addressed is how we achieve equality for children with disabilities, particularly when it comes to education.

My sister Oksana has autism and cerebral palsy, and I have experienced firsthand how many mainstream institutions are ill-equipped to serve children with disabilities. However, our experience is not the only one - it's not even rare.

I read a story a few years ago that has always stuck with me. John - a boy with autism and dyspraxia at a mainstream school - was having a hard time. He didn't act like everyone else; his mother often received calls from teachers about his behavior. He was disruptive and struggled to communicate.

The teaching assistant assigned to him had fallen into the role of a babysitter rather than an educator and John's learning had stalled. Everyone in the situation wanted to make things better but there was a big problem - they didn't know how.

Training for teachers hadn't been provided, so no one understood why John being in a mainstream school just wasn't working. Small changes - such as a sloped writing board - could have made a huge positive difference to his ability to focus and learn. Yet nothing changed.

This story stayed with me because it confirmed two things I have always believed: children with disabilities can and should learn alongside those without, but the system has to change. It has to change a lot. A big thing we must address is the current approach to how children with disabilities are taught in mainstream schools. The truth is they will not fit into a system - the system must be adapted. Only this will create true inclusion and banish stigma, not to mention be a better learning experience for all of the children involved.

This isn't a new or original opinion, but it's one that must be expressed. Not just because things will never get better unless we shout loud, but because children with disabilities have the right to the same education as those without. It prepares them socially for adulthood and raises their expectations of what life should hold for them beyond school. If their peers believe they'll go to university, have an incredible job and be successful, so will they.

But the education system is far from where it needs to be. Last year, a survey by Mencap revealed 66% of parents who have children with disabilities in mainstream schools are not confident the teachers understand how to educate their child.

So what do we do? This is a big issue but we can tackle it, bit by bit, by implementing a steady stream of small changes.

Today I will be speaking on the Inclusion Matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities panel at UNESCO headquarters in Paris to talk about the subject of this article to a great audience of influencers and policy makers in the field. I hope they will hear me. I also invite you on that day to download Elbi. Elbi is a platform and an app that brings the power of social and digital worlds to charities and connects them with people around the world. This day will be dedicated to the International Day of People with Disabilities and will feature a few great charities that you can support and empower with small actions that should take you no more than three minutes each.

I have a great faith in the power of little actions making a big difference - that's what Elbi (LB) stands for. Today we live in a connected world which allows us all to be influencers and contributors.

So let's do this. Let's change this injustice. Let's insist on authentic inclusion and help those who are working everyday to make it happen.